Written By: Becky Bower
Freedom of Information Day
Protect Tenant Screening
The Freedom of Information Act is the cornerstone of tenant screening. Without it, property managers and landlords like yourself would be renting to tenants in the dark. I bet you didn’t know that March 16 was Freedom of Information Day, celebrating the birthday of President James Madison. Madison was the foremost advocate for openness in government and was instrumental in drafting the United States Constitution and United States Bill of Rights. Mark your calendar to celebrate next year, and learn how you can further protect the valuable information you rely upon when selecting applicants.
How does the Freedom of Information Act benefit me?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows you to access objective and verifiable data regarding your applicant’s prior payment patterns, criminal activities, and how they have behaved as a tenant in order to make an informed rental decision. Because this act is in place, your credit reporting agency (also known as your tenant screening company) can provide things like your applicant’s criminal and eviction history, credit score, and credit history. Essentially, the Freedom of Information Act protects your right to know exactly to whom you are renting.
Quick Tip: Remember that you’re always entitled to your information! The federal government grants you one free credit report each year. Rental applicants are also entitled to a copy of their tenant screening report.
How do my renters benefit from the Freedom of Information Act?
Property managers and owners aren’t the only ones who benefit from having accessible tenant screening records. Your rental applicants and tenants benefit from it as well. While tenant screening isn’t perfect, it allows you to vet your rental applicants based on objective data. As long as you keep upholding your rental standards, your property is Fair Housing compliant. Since you’re not going to rent your properties out blindly, this process avoids subjective reasoning, such as personal appearance or social media activities.
On the flip side, by using tenant screening and making your rental requirements known to all applicants (for example, if you prohibit major felonies like arson or theft), your existing tenants can breathe easy, knowing that their neighbors have undergone the same vetting process to ensure a safe community.
How can I protect my right to tenant screening information?
Unfortunately, not everyone sees the value in keeping important tenant screening records available. The City of Seattle, for example, outlawed the use of criminal records for rental housing purposes late last year. While this is not a common ordinance, similar laws would be hugely detrimental to the rental housing industry if it spread.
One of the best ways to protect your tenant screening data is to look out for upcoming state and local legislation. Keep up-to-date on your state’s newest rental housing laws by getting involved with your local associations, subscribe for more rental housing news, and have your Senator’s and your Congressmen’s contact information ready. As you know, it’s a lot easier to stop bills that are harmful to your property early on. As a NARPM® Member, you can login to Members Only content and then go to www.narpm.org/legislative/national-news-andbills/ legislative-action-alerts and see all of the bills pending in your sate.
Take the time to catch up on what’s going on legislatively within the rental housing industry. It is incredibly important that property managers and owners continue to have access to tenant screening data, and staying up-to-date is a vital part of safeguarding your leasing process. As future unavoidable directives like the credit bureau’s National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP) affect tenant screening records, make sure to talk to your tenant screening service about what methods you can take to insure your rental applicants are vetted to your standards.
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